Excerpt #22 — Steven Smith on Neo-Kantian Liberals & Their Neo-Hegelian Communitarian Critics

In some ways, this is a follow-up to an earlier post comparing Lilla and Fukuyama.

To recap: only now, in my third graduate degree at a major research institution, have I come across what is often known as the “social justice left”, and have found it maddening to interact with, very different from the liberal left (social justice movements are illiberal) with which I largely identify (with some communitarian sympathies). It turns out that the graduates of institutions that push this agenda are militant and intolerant, and carry this agenda with them into their workplaces.

It is, thus, imperative to make sense out of what it is, rather than fear it, or react to it. How to make sense out of it, its roots, its character, its principles? I began with Mark Lilla’s The Once and Future Liberal, which I’ll probably review here sometime relatively soon. I then moved on to Francis Fukuyama’s Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, which I enjoyed more. I am only pages away from finishing Kwame Anthony Appiah’s The Lies that Bind: Rethinking Identity (Appiah also wrote The Ethics of Identity, which I own, but have not yet read), and when I am done with that, I will immediately begin Jonathan Haidt (pronounced “height”) and Greg Lukianoff’s The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up A Generation for Failure, largely on the merits of Haidt’s many lectures I came across on YouTube where he sanely covers the issues involved in this movement. 

One of the tasks I set for myself, in order to come to terms with some of the issues brought up by one course in particular that I took, was to cover a particular transition of Marxist language into social justice contexts. The social justice folks seemed to use it differently than what I remembered reading in Marx.

Thus, I set out first to understand the transition from the classical liberal tradition to Hegel’s response. Secondly, I tasked myself to see how Marx emerged from the post-Hegelian tradition. Thirdly, I purposed to ascertain how and whether the Marxist-sounding language used by many of the authors syllabused (it’s a good neologism, and you heard it here first, folks) in the class I took –Marxist-sounding language used to support the social justice tradition– was aligned with Marx himself and the Marxist tradition; it seemed like it was not. 

I am starting with Steven B. Smith’s Hegel’s Critique of Liberalism: Rights in ContextIn the opening chapter, he makes some seemingly-insightful comments on how the tension between neo-Kantian individualists (on the one hand) and communitarians (on the other) is a “reinvention of the wheel” of Hegel’s critique of the liberal tradition. When he speaks of neo-Kantians, he has in mind figures like John Rawls

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Excerpt #3 — Frederick Beiser on Hegel and the Romantics

Before beginning my first master’s degree in 2011, I knew that I wanted to look at the modern period, and so I spent the summer straddled three ways between my young family, part-time tech work, and reading. One of the more memorable books I remember reading that summer was Frederick Beiser‘s excellent book on Hegel (one review can be found here, another here — and a lecture of his that I can’t seem to get working can be found here). When I first found Beiser’s Hegel, I sat down at noon in a book store to browse it, and (seemingly) soon after my wife called me to tell me that I was very late for dinner and that she was concerned about me. It is that good. Continue reading

Richard Crouter’s Friedrich Schleiermacher: Between Enlightenment and Romanticism

friedrich-schleiermacherRichard Crouter’s Friedrich Schleiermacher consists of a series of eleven essays, most of which were published in journals from 1980 to 2003, plus an Introduction. The unity of the collection is found, Crouter argues, in the theme of the book’s title: “Schleiermacher’s cultural location between Enlightenment and Romanticism, the appellations we give to the intellectual movements that name his cultural worlds.” (1) This does not mean that Crouter thinks one can find the essential features of Schleiermacher’s thought by generalizing about either of these movements. (7) Crouter will rather use them as backdrop, for in Schleiermacher, the lines between these two movements are “blurred”. (8) Crouter states that his approach is both historically to situate the religious debates in which Schleiermacher was enmeshed (9), and to draw out the revisions between the various editions of his major works, to show what the edits reveal, and thereby put these editorial judgments in historical profile. (10) Approaching Schleiermacher in vivo, Crouter argues, will help us both in understanding him as he was, and in understanding him as he is for us. (2) To that end, Crouter has organized his essays under three main categories, roughly: Schleiermacher’s work vis-à-vis the works of three notable figures that chronologically frame him, Schleiermacher as socially- and politically-engaged citizen, and Schleiermacher as midwife of a Modern form of Christianity. Continue reading